Vengeance is the Lord’s: Bob Glaudini's Version of the American Family in Drama

If you were to go to the American drama section of the library, close your eyes, and choose a play at random, chances are that it will be a play about a family. The family romance is the meat and potatoes of our theatre, familiar yet always satisfying. This is a character trait of American drama going back to the 18th century. Families — their structures, their politics, their economics — are the idiom many writers use to illustrate the American experience and their own world view, interweaving personal stories with archetypal characters. The most enduring: domineering fathers, addicted mothers, and misunderstood sons.

 

Bob Glaudini’s Vengeance is the Lord’s continues in this great tradition, but also breaks with it in many ways. Standing on his front porch, paterfamilias Mathew Horvath declares, “Inside to the warmth and bosom of the family ...” — a statement that, if we are familiar with theatre history, we suspect is irony. The Horvath family is a broken one: they are coping with the potential parole of the man who raped and murdered their daughter. However, they are no innocents themselves, having built their family businesses of bars, strip clubs, and auto body shops by legitimate and illegitimate means. The complicated relationship between family and money, innocence and guilt, creates fertile territory for conflict.

In a prototypical American family drama, the first event is often a kind of reunion. Arthur Miller’s All My Sons (part of the Huntington’s previous season) begins as the Kellers are reunited with Ann, the girl who planned to marry their missing-in-action and presumed dead elder son. Her presence eventually leads to the revelation of Joe Keller’s guilt in valuing the family business over his own moral code. Joe’s son, Chris, repudiates his father, rejecting the life that his parents built for him. Miller uses the story, and an implicit Oedipal struggle, to make an explicit critique of the capitalistic tendency to value profit over doing the right thing.

In Vengeance, the scenes take place on holidays — moments of ritual family reunion. In these encounters, the Horvaths clash over the appropriate treatment of their daughter’s murderer: granting forgiveness versus exacting revenge. But, over the course of the play, we learn where the Horvaths place the value of a human life in comparison with the value of their business.

“We’re all responsible for our part in things,” says the youngest son, Donald, an advocate for forgiveness. But Glaudini complicates his place as the hero of the story or its moral conscience. Unlike All My Sons, this modern story dramatizes a world in which everyone is complicit. If Donald has always known his father was crooked, what rejection is possible? When the entire family is tied into the business, what space remains for personal ethics? The Keller family ruptures irrevocably by the end of All My Sons because Chris wishes to preserve his sense of morality, but the Horvath family is knit tighter by their complicity. Arthur Miller’s moralistic point of view has long since fallen out of favor in the American theatre. The Horvath family’s big tragedies are past; what is left to figure out is how to live in a world where no one’s hands are clean, a strong parable for today’s America.

— Lisa Timmel


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